When you think of Bermuda you think of sun and swimming and boating, but at the moment nobody wants to get their toes wet! In the winter months, it’s easy to be stuck with nothing to do. Luckily, it’s not too cold to put on a fleece and walk along a windy beach, looking for treasures washed up there. We’ve created this beachcombing guide for the adventurers among us.
These black, twisted little treasures are actually the egg cases of oviparous sharks, skates and chimeras. They are made of collagen protein strands, and attach to some kind of substrate on the sea bottom until the offspring hatch – sometimes up to seven embryos can be contained in a single case.
The cases that wash up on-shore, and become brittle, baked by the sun, are cases that have released the eggs successfully and subsequently dried out. Gestation inside the case can take anywhere from a few months to over a year. When the embryos are ready to hatch, two slits open on either side of the case to allow water flow.
Mermaid’s purses can be found commonly on beaches around Bermuda. You can look up the shape of the case to get an idea of what species it came from.
Violet Seasnail and Sunrise Tellin
Bermuda isn’t famous for its seashells because we don’t have many striking native mollusks, and because the high wave action off our shores breaks up most deposited shells that come by. However, we have a few shells that do turn up in small numbers that are brilliant finds.
If you find what looks like a small purple snail shell, it probably belongs to the violet seasnail. It’s a pelagic snail that lives on the surface of the ocean, kept up by a nifty raft of bubbles. The snail blowing air out of its shell, or stirring the water with its foot creates the bubbles, which it uses mucus to stick to. The shell is very light and delicate so that the snail doesn’t sink – but this makes it a challenge to find a whole unbroken shell on the beach.
Sunrise tellins are a bivalve mollusk from the Atlantic Ocean. It is difficult to see a tellin in the wild because they live their whole lives burrowed in the soft sediment on the sea bottom, using a long siphon to breathe. Their shells are a rare find, and brilliantly radiated with pinks and oranges that make them look like they contain an entire sunrise.
Stinky sargassum weed probably wasn’t the sort of treasure you expected to find on a beach. Some Bermudian commercial beaches are cleaned of the sargassum weed every morning. However, it is a vital ingredient in the formation of our island’s substrate. Over time, sand blows over washed up sargassum and becomes packed down with rainwater to create a sand dune, the first step in creating limestone.
However, for the purpose of beachcombing – it’s not the sargassum you should be interested in, but what’s inside the sargassum. Floating in the Sargasso sea, the great mats of sargassum weed might be home to carapaces from crustaceans, shells from mollusks, or any number of other exciting finds.
Possibly mistaken for polished stones at first glance, seabeans are actually the seeds of tropical plants, encased in a hard shell to withstand the ocean’s harsh environment.
You can search online to find out what type of plant your seabean came from. They are released from plants such as mangroves, hog plums, mangoes, coconuts and seaside morning glory.
Bermuda is most famous for our seaglass in terms of beachcombing treasures. During Bermuda’s history, we had a bad habit of disposing of trash in bodies of water, or in landfills that eventually seeped into the ocean. Every famous seaglass beach in Bermuda is just downstream from a historic garbage dump.
Seaglass is glass that has been worn down by the tide, sand and salt of the ocean until it is weathered and smooth. Sharp pieces are more recent additions, and should be thrown back in to the ocean, or disposed of properly. In Bermuda, green, brown, and white glass is common, while blue is less so and red is very rare.
Glow Sticks and Tags
Although technically garbage, glow sticks and colourful fishing tags can be found in great abundance on the beach. These items are both a result of the commercial fishing industry. Glow sticks are used in fish pots and traps to attract fish inside them, and the tags have raised molded lettering identifying the traps for legal purposes. The tags in particular come in a variety of colours, and it’s interesting to research where the tags came from with the information present.